Chag Pesach sameach! Or, if you don’t speak Hebrew: Happy Passover! Or, if you’re from Monterey, California: It’s that Jewish holiday where they spend a week eating those big crackers you can only find at Trader Joe’s and definitely not at the Commissary.
Food is at the core of so many Jewish holidays (or lack of food, if we’re talking Yom Kippur). Some of my most enduring childhood memories are of rolling out hamantaschen dough with my mom, or peeling potato after potato for Hanukkah latkes, or learning how impossible it is to get a pomegranate stain out of a white shirt during Sukkot. With every holiday, the food and the traditions intertwine into a fragrant, wine-soaked nostalgia that I one day hope to instill in my children as well. Um, minus the wine.
It’s my first Pesach away from my family, and I’ve been awaiting this time apprehensively. The more I preview the U.S. map of Army posts, the more apparent it becomes that, with a Baptist husband and small-to-nonexistent local Jewish populations, keeping up with the holiday traditions of my childhood will be a very self-motivated effort. Which can be difficult in the kitchen for a holiday centered around matzah (or matzo): a bland, crunchy, unleavened bread-cracker that is steeped in meaning, but not so much in flavor.
Without getting into too much detail, celebrating Passover involves adhering to a set of dietary restrictions for its eight-day duration, which commemorates the Jews’ exodus from their Egyptian enslavement. The main dietary restriction is to avoid “chametz,” or leavened grains such as wheat, barley, rye, oats, or spelt. We refrain from eating chametz to help us remember that, when the Jews fled the Pharaoh’s rule, they left so quickly and with such little notice that their bread had not had time to rise.
So bread is a real no-go during Passover, and matzah is often used in its place. Some Jews also prohibit legumes, rice, and corn (which means no high fructose corn syrup!), and the list goes on. Curious if something you’ve bought from the store is kosher (accepted by Jewish law as fit for eating/drinking), or kosher for Passover? Check the container; it will often tell you.
Because I’ve been observing Passover for as long as I can remember, the dietary restrictions are fairly routine; as an adult, the emphasis falls much more on the tradition and commemoration than it does on my stomach. The unique challenge, now, is to work Pesach routines into my new, married home. So, using Jonathan as a test subject, I’ve created and borrowed some Passover recipes, in hopes that they will make the holiday more fun than dreaded in a religiously blended household.
Crunchy & Spicy Sriracha Passover Chicken
This is my own recipe, and it’s a kosher-for-Passover take on a chicken dish that gets great reviews in my home. If you’re all about chicken tenders but your stomach can’t stand spicy, you can omit the Sriracha from the recipe. (Hint: If you don’t celebrate Passover or want to make this recipe outside of the holiday when there’s no matzah on the shelves, replace the matzah/matzo meal with Panko or breadcrumbs.)
- 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in half
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce
- 3 sheets of matzah, finely crushed (or 1 cup matzo meal)
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp cayenne (optional)
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cover a baking pan with foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.
- In a shallow bowl, beat egg and whisk in Sriracha.
- In a separate bowl, combine the crushed matzah or matzo meal, olive oil, and spices. Mix well with hands.
- Dip the chicken breast halves into the egg mixture, then into the matzah mixture, coating evenly. Press matzah mixture firmly onto chicken to make sure it sticks. Place on pan.
- Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until coating is browned and crispy. Drizzle with more Sriracha if desired.
Charoset is a traditional Passover food that is eaten during the seder and appears on the seder plate. Its texture and color represent the mortar (mud or clay) used by the Israelites to make bricks during their Egyptian enslavement. Despite the pain in its symbolism, charoset is extremely delicious. Below is the recipe I’ve come to prefer over the years, though there are many variations. I love charoset so much that I almost always double the below recipe, refrigerate in a covered container, and eat the shit out of it all week long.
- 3 apples, peeled, cored, and diced (I use a combination of Gala and Fuji)
- 1 1/2 cups walnut halves or pieces
- 1/2 cup sweet red wine
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon honey
- Put all ingredients in a large bowl and mix until combined.
- Eat it plain, as a side dish, or serve atop matzah. For a kick, it also tastes great with some horseradish.
Matzah Pizza with Pesto Chicken Sausage
Matzah pizza was my favorite part of Passover as a kid, proving that not much has changed now that I’m an adult. You can load this recipe up with your favorite pizza toppings and veggies, or follow my favorite combo below. Hint: I get pesto chicken sausage from Trader Joe’s; if you can’t find the already-flavored sausage or if you just really, really love pesto (I’m guilty of this), the tomato sauce in this recipe can be partially or completely replaced with pesto.
Ingredients (makes two individual pizzas):
- Two sheets of matzah
- 6 tablespoons tomato sauce, divided
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
- 1 link of pesto chicken/turkey sausage, cooked and cut into rounds*
- 1/2 red or green bell pepper, chopped
- 1/2 tsp dried basil, divided
- 1 tsp garlic powder, divided
- Grated parmesan cheese
*I do not regularly keep kosher in my home. If you do, replace the sausage with sun-dried tomatoes and store-bought or homemade pesto to avoid mixing milk and meat. Hint: Pesto is traditionally made with pine nuts, but you can whip up a batch of your own with walnuts leftover from your charoset.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Spread 3 tablespoons of tomato sauce on each of the matzah pieces.
- Sprinkle with garlic powder, then with shredded mozzarella.
- Arrange sausage rounds and bell pepper pieces on top of cheese.
- Sprinkle with dried basil and grated parmesan.
- Place directly on oven rack and bake until cheese is melted (about 6 minutes).
Open-Faced Matzah Sandwiches with Almond Butter, Banana, and Honey
Because peanuts are legumes, some Jews do not eat them during Passover. Other nuts (such as walnuts and almonds), however, pass the test. This recipe works well with many fruits (such as sliced strawberries or apples), or with jam or jelly for a PB&J alternative; just make sure your substitutions don’t contain high fructose corn syrup.
- Almond butter (make sure your brand does not contain high fructose corn syrup)
- Banana slices
- Cinnamon (optional)
- Spread almond butter on matzah.
- Top with banana slices.
- Drizzle with honey and sprinkle with cinnamon (if using).
I’ve seen as many different recipes for matzah brei as I’ve seen spellings for “matzah.” For lack of a better term, it’s basically a matzah-egg scramble; in some recipes, the batter is formed into individual pancake-like servings before it’s fried. Jonathan said it reminded him of Chinese food–probably because the finished texture is similar to egg fu yung. Below is my favorite rendition: my mom’s recipe. (When I called her to ask for it the other day, she was right smack in the middle of a matzah brei dinner). My dad eats his with ketchup, my mom eats hers with maple syrup, but I prefer Sriracha.
Ingredients (serves 2-3)
- 5 sheets of matzah
- 3 eggs
- Dehydrated onion flakes or onion salt (optional)
- Garlic powder (optional)
- Oil for frying
- Break matzah into small pieces and place in a large bowl. Soak the matzah in warm water for 5 minutes. Drain and return to bowl.
- Add eggs to the bowl, followed by salt, pepper, onion flakes/salt, and garlic powder to taste. Mix well with a rubber spatula or fork.
- Heat a healthy amount of oil in a pan over medium heat (in my mom’s words: enough to cover the bottom of the pan). Add matzah mixture to pan and fry for about 15 minutes or until the matzah pieces are browned, breaking up and tossing with a spatula occasionally.
- Serve with your favorite condiment.
What are your favorite Passover recipes? If you don’t celebrate, can you think of any recipes you use that would fit under the holiday’s dietary restrictions?